Characteristics of our Missionary Spirituality

“The Spirit is upon me…He has sent me”(Lk. 4: 18-21)

The Congregation is very sensitive when it comes to the delicate subject of its spirituality.  We are looking for a new dynamic center.  Along with many other individuals and groups in the Church we are longing for a spiritual renaissance.  But this desire requires a restatement.

In order to shed light on this we are going to briefly allude to: 1) how the Congregation has understood its spirituality in recent years; and 2) what perspectives or directions are presented to our spirituality today, taking into account what has been presented earlier.

1. How have we understood our spirituality in recent years?

Although great stimulus for our spirituality comes from Holy Mother Church and from the movement of peoples toward the Kingdom of God, nonetheless, we cannot forget that we are, in the Church, a “Congregation of Missionaries”, graced with a charism.  This collective charism gives a particular stamp to out Christian spirituality and makes us develop it—in ourselves and in others—from perspectives to which we are particularly sensitive.  What are these perspectives? Our answer lies, first of all, in our Father Founder, Anthony Mary Claret, and in the path the Congregation has been traveling over the course of its history.  We of the present generation are particularly interested in the path of spirituality that the Congregation has been laying out in recent years[1].

a) The Spiritual Experience of Anthony Mary Claret

Our Father Founder matured in his Christian experience through a process that gave characteristic features to his spiritual physiognomy[2]. Four expressions, drawn from his particular reading of the Word of God, indicate the pillars on which his spiritual path is based: “What profit” (Mt. 16: 26), “Of my Father” (Lk. 2: 49), “The love of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14), “The Spirit of the Lord” (Lk. 4: 18; Is. 61: 1).  The first expression tells us about his human experience and the other three describe his Trinitarian experience of God.

WHAT PROFIT. This deals with his initial experience, or his experience of the threshold.  The phrase is taken from the text of Mt 16: 26 that played such a decisive role in the life of Claret: “What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process?” Although this was a constant theme throughout his life, it is especially prominent at decisive moments and comes to be the touchstone of his fidelity to his vocation. In Claret it is manifested, above all, at the great crossroads that elicited his conversion and his basic options.

OF MY FATHER. This expresses Claret’s relationship to God the Father.  It refers to an experience of God’s love—communicated through the Spirit—that inflames him and disposes him to receive the image of a missionary.  It is the equivalent of “being about my Father’s business” like Jesus in Lk. 2: 49.  It is then, as the basis for his missionary life, the experience without which there can be no process of configuration.  As in Jesus, sonship and mission are two inseparable dimensions of this spirituality.

THE LOVE OF CHRIST. The life of Claret is a life that can only be understood from the perspective of Jesus Christ, whose name cannot be invoked without God’s help[3]. Jesus Christ is the center of his life around which everything else revolves.  This centrality is reflected in the Pauline text of 2 Cor. 5:14 that was the motto on his episcopal coat of arms: “The love of Christ impels us”.  It is the Claretian experience of the imitation, following and configuration to the Son sent by the Father, born of Mary, and anointed by the Spirit.

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD. This is the deepest key to the configuring process.  When Claret wants to interpret his evangelizing vocation, he understands “in a very special way” the words “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has sent me to proclaim the Good News to the poor” (cf. Lk. 4: 18; Is 61: 1). These words summarize his experience of being anointed and sent by the Spirit to proclaim, like Jesus, the Gospel to the poor[4].

b) Our Spiritual Heritage

The gift received by Claret is continued and developed in this Congregation of ours that he founded.  Citing our most recent documents, we note some essential consistencies:

The Organizing Principle: Our Father Founder recognized in the missionary vocation the motivation that guided his entire life and apostolic activity[5]. “His calling to the apostolate opened his eyes and his heart to perceive and discern the ills of the Church and society…but it also suggested to him the resources and means through which they could be remedied”[6]. In the word missionary we sum up our charismatic patrimony[7]. We feel the community is called together by the Spirit for the proclamation of the Word[8]; we know we are called to live as “apostolic missionaries” in the style of the Apostles.  This involves living the evangelical counsels in a community of life with Jesus and with our brothers, in order to be sent and to proclaim to the entire world the Good News of the Kingdom[9]. Our options for evangelization[10] are an integrating factor in Claretian spirituality; they configure it as a spirituality that is missionary, inculturated, prophetic, identified with the poor and multiplying evangelizers. These very demands awaken in us attitudes of availability, exodus, itinerancy and docility to the Spirit[11].

The Primacy of the Word of God: Claret discovered “his radical experience of God in Christ by persistent meditation on the Scriptures…He kept alive his keen awareness and grasp of what was most urgent for the Church and the society of his times in relation to God’s plan of salvation”[12]. We have inherited from him a spirituality of hearers and servants of the Word.  Welcoming the Word that makes us disciples, proclaiming it and being witnesses to it is our way of following Jesus[13]. We contemplate the Master and listen to his Word in order to proclaim the Kingdom, opening our hearts and sharing the anxieties and hopes of our brothers and sisters[14].

The Centrality of Christ: Claret lived his spirituality in a process that began with “a deep sense of friendship with Christ (above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist), in whose deep sense of Sonship Claret gradually came to discover God the Father, who sent Jesus because he loves the world”[15]. He shapes his ideal out of “conformity with Christ, consecrated and sent by the Father for the world’s redemption” through “external imitation of Christ’s apostolic virtues and the living experience of his interior attitudes…and full transformation… it is Christ who lives in me”[16]. The Father Founder identifies Christ as: a) the Son who is concerned about his Father’s interests[17]; b) The Son anointed in order to evangelize the poor[18]; c) The Son of Man who has no place to lay his head[19]; d) A sign of contradiction[20]; e) Son of Mary[21]; f) Sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit, sharing his life and mission with the Apostles[22]. We also define our being missionary as identification with Christ the Evangelizer.  From our celebration of the Eucharist, we live in intimate communion with Him.  It is there that all we are and do has its origin[23].

The Inescapable Mediation of Mary: “A very important influence both on his closeness to Christ and his grasp of the ways of salvation for the world was the presence of Mary, with whom he sensed that his own mission, in its origin and exercise, was closely linked”[24]. The loving and filial communion with Mary reaches its supreme expression when Claret says: “Mary Most Holy [is] my mother, my patroness, my mistress, my directress and my all, after Jesus”[25]. A Cordi-Marian spirituality is found in both the Founder and in ourselves[26]. Claret presented the Heart of Mary to us as the burning forge in which we are formed for ministry.  The community discovers and learns the way to listen in the Heart of Mary.  By the indwelling of the Word, we will not live divided, nor insensitive to God’s crying out to us in men and women[27]. “Our prophetic lifestyle receives a distinctive imprint from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of the Congregation.  She teaches us that without heart, without tenderness, without love, there is no credible prophecy”[28].

An Integrating Spirituality: In the Autobiography our Father Founder exemplifies his spirituality by using symbolism drawn from the world of objects and animals, open to the saving presence in the harmony of creation.  Thus Claret shows himself to be a follow of Jesus, the Teller of Parables, which he proposes to us as a model for ministry.

The synthesis of the spirituality that we receive from Claret is this: “The Spirit of the Father and the Son—and also the Spirit of our Mother—is the integrating center of all the dimensions of our life and mission”[29]. Out of the Spirit we consecrate ourselves “to Christ and to the Heart of Mary, in a perfect apostolic and evangelical life of prayer and suffering for the salvation of humankind, to the glory of God the Father”[30].

This experience of grace, shared from the outset with a group of companions to whom the Lord had given the same spirit[31], is the basis for our charismatic existence in the Church[32].

c) In Creative Fidelity

In order to carry out the Council’s demand for renewal, we have reinterpreted our own history.  During the course of this we have been experiencing the presence of the Spirit[33]. Each General Chapter has been a time for evaluation, synthesis and projection.  This ongoing process has allowed us to discover new characteristics that also make up our spiritual identity:

A Prophetic Spirituality: involves cultivating a deep experience of God, listening to the Word, discerning by the light of the Spirit the challenges of our time and translating them boldly and courageously into options and projects that are both consistent with our original charism and the demands of our concrete historical situation[34]. “Prophecy only becomes persuasive when there is a coherence between our announcement and our life”[35].

A Community Spirituality and a Spirituality of Communion: The person grows and is fulfilled by opening himself to communion, entering into his moment in history.  Thus, through communion and community mission, we develop our personhood as Claretians[36].

A Spirituality Rooted in the People of God: We press for the living of a spirituality that is more committed to and shared with the People of God and with the agents of evangelization, allowing ourselves to be evangelized by the poor and by the religious and cultural values of the peoples[37]. Like Claret, we know that our mission binds us in a special way to simple people, to ‘the needy and the poor’[38]. All this makes us insert ourselves more and more into the local churches and the universal Church, collaborating with them[39].

An Integral Spirituality: We must live a spirituality that is one of both prayer and contemplation and of apostolic activity, the way Claret did.  In order to do this, we must ask the Spirit for the grace to be contemplatives in mission and avail ourselves of means like spiritual accompaniment that fosters progress in the missionary life[40]. Care for and development of the human dimension makes us joyful, kind, understanding evangelizers, with a positive view of life, who manifest “outwardly the inner fullness of grace”[41].

A Convergent Spirituality: Not all of us express the missionary vocation in the same way: we are missionaries who are priests, deacons, brothers and students.  Thus, missionary spirituality is manifested in some as priestly or diaconal spirituality and in others as a spirituality of non-ordained ministers or consecrated lay spirituality[42]. Differences also arise from the cultures, peoples and particular churches in which we are inserted.  Empowering these distinctive characteristics within a single missionary spirituality benefits mission and communion because they tend toward a more complete display of the possibilities latent within the charism. The Missionary Priests help us with their ordained ministry to live our common condition of servants and to empower the charisms of all the members of the Christian community with their experience of communion and mission. The Missionary Brothers, for their part, express the fellowship that must characterize our missionary life, as well as the lay dimension of our shared mission[43].

2. Orientations for our spirituality “today”

Among us missionaries there are different positions and perspectives when it comes to understanding spirituality.  Thus we feel it is appropriate to offer some suggestions to channel our efforts in a promising direction.

a) Along the Journey of the People of God

We understand our missionary spirituality not as something separate, but as our particular way of participating in the spirituality of the People of God.  We form part of a great community guided by the Spirit and where the Spirit acts within a diversity of peoples and cultures, but engenders a wondrous communion of heart, soul and goods.  We humbly believe that our charism contributes to empowering the prophetic aspect of the People of God.  Thus, we deem it important and decisive that our spirituality finds nourishment from the spirituality journey of our peoples, from the historical reality that challenges and stimulates us. The locus of our life and mission is among the people whom God chooses to inherit his Kingdom, where miracles happen, where parables find their meaning, where the prophetic word illumines the course of history.

b) Always Out of Love

Our spirituality attests to the fact that love gives it its basic impulse: “charitas Christi urget nos” (“the love of Christ impels us”). The “today” of love is a kairos, a decisive moment, that summons us to: 1) be faithful to reality and to collaborate with the Spirit of Jesus—the Messiah—in the liberation of the poor, the oppressed and the excluded (cf. Lk. 4), promoting human rights and the culture of peace and proclaiming justice against every injustice; 2) to go out with the People of God from among the Egyptians who today enslave us in order to go into the deserts of history as witnesses of the Covenant and of the Kingdom of God, already granted to the poor, with a patient wisdom that protects and guides creation in the spirit of the Beatitudes; 3) to be personally trained through the virtues (faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance), which today find new meaning in the militant spirituality that aims at transforming an unjust world.

c) Spirituality in the Context of Post-Modernity

Post-Modernity criticizes utopias (both of the right and left) and the great myths of modernity (reason, progress, revolution, liberty and history) and prefers to revel in immediate experience, with no other norm that a vague tolerance disposed to effectively disregard values even so far as overcoming the limit of contradiction.

Confronted with this social and cultural post-modern situation, our total dedication to mission must be manifested as belief in the God who offers us his fullness and also as a gesture of fellowship to those we look upon as sons and daughters of a common Father and Mother.

d) An Apocalyptic Perspective

The Claretian Missionaries want to watch diligently for the working of the Spirit in different times and situations.  Our Father Founder was an example of attentiveness to the signs of the times.  Moreover, he infused us with a spirituality that has strongly apocalyptic overtones.  “Apocalyptic” here does not mean catastrophic, but revelatory of the Grand Design of God in the midst of a time of contradiction, struggle and injustice.

Watchfulness makes us live our spirituality in: 1) situations of martyrdom, where passion, rather than action, may characterize our ministry; 2) contexts of inter-religious dialogue, in which we know how to welcome the presence of the Spirit in those we are talking with, where we succeed in communicating our faith in Jesus, our Lord and the Servant of all, the Body handed over, and where we act out of an attitude of kenosis, humility and meekness—qualities so characteristic of our Master; 3) a strong consciousness of justice and of commitment to peace, that makes us messengers and witnesses in difficult and conflictive situations.

e) An “Open” Spirituality

We understand that our spirituality is not a closed reality that has to be repeated by rote.  It is always in the process of being realized, of connecting with different forces that animate and enrich it.

Within the Congregation one can see a strong pluralism in the area of spirituality.  We do not all have the same rhythm, nor do we all color our spirituality the same way, nor do we all emphasize the same values.  The spirituality of liberation is very strong in many of our missionaries in America, as well as in Asia (the Philippines) and Europe.  In Asia, especially in India, Japan and Korea, the spirituality that is emerging must very much be seen as a dialogue of life; the experiences of the ashrams or contacts with Hinduism and Buddhism, emerging theologies (Dalit, tribal, etc.) shape an inter-religious model of spirituality. In Africa as well, our missionaries are feeling the pull of a spirituality strongly linked to the its great religious traditions; the Claretians of Africa are living this spirituality out of a commitment to peace and justice in a context of truncated democracy, war, tribalism, etc.  In Europe a rebirth of spirituality is going on after the purification it has undergone from suspect philosophies (Nietzsche, Marx, Freud), atheism and unbelief; it is recovering its mystical traditions, but reinterpreted from the perspective of solidarity, incarnation, commitment to the world.

These processes dispose us to complementarity and reciprocity.  In a Church that looks for heaven and for an earth where justice dwells[44], the laity not only contributes new ministerial presences, but also gifts of the Spirit to share through the grace of encounter.  This particularly demands that we accept the full integration of women both in society and in Christian communities, since without it a new evangelization is unthinkable[45] as is a response of all humanity to the plan that saves us.

As the third millennium begins, it is imperative to extend the dominion of love throughout the world[46], promoting it on all levels out of a sincere esteem for the various rites of the Church and a deep respect for all religions and beliefs.

(Chapter II Of The Document of the Spirituality Congress, 2002: Our Missionary Spirituality along the Journey of God’s People)

[1] It is sufficient to recall the many Missionary Encounters held on different continents, the Priest Weeks in Vic, Workshops on Cordi-Marian and missionary spirituality, etc. Two very important workshops were recently held: “Justice, Peace and the Wholeness of Creation” (Bilbao, 3-13 December 1999) and “The Prophetic Dimension of Our Missionary Service of the Word” (Manila, 24-31 January 2000).

[2] This experience is found expressed in the General Plan of Formation (GPF) of the Congregation starting with the joy of the Forge and is offered as a proposed pedagogy: cf. GPF, Rome 1994, nn. 123-127.

[3] Cf. Aut 345.

[4] Cf. Aut 687.

[5] Cf. MCT 52.

[6] Cf. MCT 63.

[7] Cf. Dir 26.

[8] Cf. SW 7; CC 46.

[9] Cf. Dir 26.

[10] Cf. MCT 142-179.

[11] Cf. CPR 52.

[12] Cf. MCT 53.

[13] Cf. SW 13.

[14] Cf. SW 15.

[15] Cf. MCT 53.

[16] MCT 55.

[17] Cf. MCT 57a.

[18] Cf. MCT 58b.

[19] Cf. MCT 59c.

[20] Cf. MCT 60d.

[21] Cf. MCT 61e.

[22] Cf. MCT 62f.

[23] Cf. Dir 94.

[24] Cf. MCT 53.

[25] Aut 5.

[26] This dimension of our spirituality brings us to the wellspring of Maria’s interior life: prepared body and soul to be the Mother of God’s Son (cf. PE 17, based on LG 65, 60, 62). When we penetrate Mary’s Heart, we find a unique form of the presence of God.  Our communion with the spirit of Mary leads us to participate much better in the mysteries of Christ, because, when Mary is known and loved, she always leads us to the Lord (cf. LG 65). The Heart of Mary and our relationship to it is the context, the climate and the atmosphere in which our spirituality must be developed (cf. PE 19). “To be devoted to Mary means, above all, to be her son and her minister, cultivating a relationship of filial intimacy and placing all our energies at the service of the Gospel: in short, it means reproducing the image of Jesus the missionary of the Father and the son of Mary” (J. Bermejo, La figura de María en los escritos del P. Claret, in: Various. 2nd Symposium of the Claretian Family, Studia Claretiana VII, Rome 1989, p. 64; cf. also J. M. Hernández: Ex abundantia cordis. Estudio de la espiritualidad cordimariana de los Misioneros Claretianos. Secretariado Corazón de María, PCl, Madrid 1991, pp. 59-92).

[27] Cf. SW 7.

[28] IPM 20.

[29] SW 13.

[30] MCT 54.

[31] Cf. Aut 489.

[32] Cf. MCT 70; CPR 9; Dir 21.

[33] Cf. CPR 10.

[34] Cf. IPM 22.

[35] Cf. IPM 19.

[36] Cf. CPR 49b.

[37] Cf. CPR 53.

[38] Cf. Aut 118.

[39] Cf. CC 6.

[40] Cf. CPR 56.

[41] Dir 95.

[42] Cf. CC 78-85.

[43] Cf. Circular Letter of Fr. Aquilino Bocos Merino, “The Missionary Brothers: A Challenge for the Life and Mission of the Congregation”, Rome 1997, p. 46.

[44] Cf. 2P 3,13.

[45] Cf. VC 57.

[46]St. Augustine, Sermon 69: PL 38, 440-441.